TV Review: 'Burn Notice'
Sharp, stylish and silly show is a summertime success
Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) is a special agent who's on the top of his game, until he discovers in the middle of an assignment that he's been "burned" -- that he's considered an unreliable source, a persona non grata in the spy world. Unfortunately, in order to find out why he was fired, he has to make some sort of living, and is forced to accept odd jobs while in Miami with the help of his friend Sam (Bruce Campbell), ex-girlfriend Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) and needy mom Madeline (Sharon Gless).
The first episode starts strong, introducing a competent, yet relatable character with just the right combo of chutzpah and self-deprecation to make him charismatic. Donovan sells the witty dialog, no mean feat because most of the laughs come from voice over narration. This isn't your typical precious and profound voice over a la Grey's Anatomy or Scrubs, however.
Instead, Michael takes the time to give the audience helpful Special Ops tips that are practical, humorous and often ringing with a twisted sort of truth. The topics range from how to hit someone in the face (be careful not break the small bones in your hand) and how to break into someone's house (forego the black mask and just act nonchalant) to collapsing in business class on a plane (the seats are bigger) and how to make a listening device (you can use two cell phones).
Donovan delivers these quirky lines like a champ, and has the boyish looks to appear charming, but the wiry frame and slightly scarred face to make him a believable, hard-edged killer. This balance is necessary since the show balances the glib humor with lots of action, whether it's a car chase, gunplay or a plain old-fashioned fist fight.
The supporting cast members aren't slouches either. Although Campbell is wacky as usual, he completely embraces his role as a wastrel who lives off rich, bored, housewives in Miami. Anwar is a pleasant surprise as Fiona, who is elegant and gorgeous, but is also a steely match for Michael. Finally, Gless gives the typical interfering mother role some bite with just enough maternal feeling to be lovable. Expect each of these relationships to deepen over time.
The first episode revolves around Javier (David Zayas), a caretaker for the wealthy Mr. Pyne (Ray Wise) whose home was burgled and is now missing millions in art and jewelry. Unfortunately, Javier was home at the time, and it looks bad for him and his son. Michael isn't keen to take on the job, but uses all his limited resources to find the real thief.
Although the mystery isn't that difficult to unravel, this particular plot focuses on the particulars of the class system in Miami. So far, the production has taken advantage of this particular locale as well, judging by the abundance of bikini-clad bodies getting screen time and the show's rich, saturated colors. These actually combine to create an attractive, compelling backdrop to Michael's gritty and messy life.
Because the show is amusing, fast-paced and filled with action, it's easy to overlook the deeper mystery. The question is not who wanted Michael Westen burned, but why is he still alive and allowed autonomy in Miami? "Burn Notice" is a solid and smart show, all the more so because it's sneaky in the way it entertains. Other cable networks should sit up and take notice.